Teenage partners' communication about sexual risk and condom use: the importance of parent-teenager discussions

Fam Plann Perspect. May-Jun 1999;31(3):117-21.


Context: Teenagers' communication with their partners about sex and their use of condoms may be influenced by the discussions teenagers have with their parents about sex. However, little is known about the process of parent-teenager communication on this topic. Understanding both what parents discuss with their children and how they discuss it may lead to a greater understanding of teenagers' sexual behavior.

Methods: Interviews were conducted with 372 sexually active black and Hispanic youth aged 14-17 from Alabama, New York and Puerto Rico. Regression analyses were used to examine parent-teenager discussions about sexuality and about sexual risk, and parental communication skills as predictors of teenagers' discussions about sexual risk with a partner and teenagers' condom use.

Results: Parent-teenager discussions about sexuality and sexual risk were associated with an increased likelihood of teenager-partner discussions about sexual risk and of teenagers' condom use, but only if parents were open, skilled and comfortable in having those discussions. Teenagers' communication with their partner about sexual risk also was associated with greater condom use, but the relationship between parent-teenager communication and teenagers' condom use was independent of this association.

Conclusions: The influence on teenagers of parent-teenager discussions about sexuality and sexual risk depends on both what parents say and how they say it. Programs that foster parent-teenager communication about sexuality and sexual risk must emphasize both of these aspects.

PIP: Teenagers' communication with their partners about sex, an important factor in sexual risk reduction, has been shown to be influenced by discussions teens have with their parents about sex. The present study confirmed that parent-teen communication about sex does indeed promote teenagers' discussions with their partners about sex and condom use, but only when parents communicate in a skilled, comfortable, and open manner. Interviews were conducted during 1993-94 with 372 sexually active Black and Hispanic US high school students 14-17 years old from Alabama, New York, and Puerto Rico. On average, teens had first intercourse at age 13.7 years and had had 3.9 partners. The association between parent-teen discussions about sexuality and sexual risk and teenager-partner communication about sex was high when parental responsiveness (openness, skill, comfort) was rated high by the teenager, but this association was weaker and of only marginal significance when responsiveness was rated as low. Similarly, when parental responsiveness was high, sexuality and risk discussions were significantly associated with increased condom use during most recent intercourse and lifetime condom use. However, at low levels of parental responsiveness, sexuality discussions were negatively associated with most recent and lifetime condom use. The association between parent-teen communication and condom use was direct and independent. These findings highlight the importance of communication skills training for parents.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Communication*
  • Condoms / statistics & numerical data*
  • Contraception Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Male
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Risk-Taking
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*